Tim Farron: The phone-hacking stench will linger

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The Independent Online

The News of the World phone hacking scandal stinks and that stench will linger for a long time yet.

A sordid, unscrupulous world has been exposed that ties together newspaper editors, their grubby reporters, senior political figures and bent coppers.

The media, politicians and the police have failed the public.

But it is not true that 'they were all at it' - whether it be all journalists or all senior politicians.

Labour and the Conservatives spent decades cosying up to Rupert Murdoch and his cronies in the hope of an endorsement or a favourable headline. The Liberal Democrats did not.

What David Cameron, Tony Blair or Gordon Brown knew about the practices of the newspapers they sought to curry favour with, no one knows, but it appears they certainly didn't waste much energy finding out.

More than that, both David Cameron and Ed Miliband allowed Murdoch newspapermen into their inner circles.

David Cameron hired Andy Coulson and brought him into Number 10, despite apparent warnings of the skeletons in his closet.

Ed Miliband hired ex-News International hack Tom Baldwin just a few months ago. No doubt Baldwin helped him up on to the pedestal he used for his many media appearances this week.

Miliband has admitted that just a couple of weeks ago he went to Murdoch's summer party, alongside Cameron, and didn't bring up phone hacking.

I don't know what Tom Baldwin has done in his past, so I'll leave the criticism there, but Andy Coulson has many questions to answer - not least to the police - and so does the Prime Minister.

What did Cameron ask Coulson of his background? Did he grill him until he was satisfied or did he ask no questions so that he heard no lies?

One thing's for sure, Coulson's employment is a stain on the Government and I'm not happy about it.

We are not all the same, not inside the Government or outside it. Nick Clegg did not beg for the scraps from Murdoch's table. During the election campaign, former Sun editor David Yelland said 'One man utterly beyond the tentacles of any of [Murdoch's] family, his editors or his advisers…is Nick Clegg'.

I am bitterly disappointed that a non-Murdoch newspaper honey trap cost Vince Cable his right to adjudicate over Murdoch's proposed BSkyB takeover. But the private comments Vince made, that he had 'declared war on Murdoch', should make it clear that the Liberal Democrats are far from in his pocket.

The phone hacking scandal is not over.

Yes, we need apologies.

Yes, we need a full judge-led public inquiry into the failures of the original police investigation. Yes, we need another to shine light on the murky operations of tabloid newspapers.

Yes, we need the culprits of this sorry affair to be punished and heads to roll at News International, and not just those of the staff at the News of the World, the vast majority of whom will have never done anything as remotely appalling as hacking phones.But apologies, inquiries and punishment are not enough.

That doesn't just mean an end to corrupt practices in newsrooms and police stations. That doesn't just mean proper regulation either, although that is vital. We need to get rid of the toothless Press Complaints Commission and replace it with something that can hold newspapers properly to account - something I'm proud the Lib Dems called for at our Autumn conference last year.

That doesn't just mean making sure Murdoch and his executives are scrutinised to see if they are 'fit and proper' people to take over BSkyB.

We need a new order. Journalists must act ethically and obey the law. The police must never breach their bond of trust with the public and politicians must put people before the powerful.

Tim Farron, is president of the Liberal Democrats

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